The Barbershop has re-located

The proprietor has moved the shop to ChicagoNow, a Chicago Tribune site that showcases some of the best bloggers in the Chicago area. You can logo on to the Barbershop home page here. The ChicagoNow home page is here.

You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Outrage misplaced over phony-ID raid

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

North Michigan Avenue merchants, joined by hundreds of nearby Gold Coast residents, today angrily marched in protest of a raid by heavily armed federal agents on a fake ID ring operating openly for months on the Magnificent Mile.

Asked why they weren't angered by the presence of the ring, headed by a murder suspect, operating so brazenly in their neighborhood, a spokesman for the posh shopping district explained: "Of course we didn't want the counterfeiters here. We're just objecting to the tactics [the feds] used."

Meanwhile, a similar raid on a gang of counterfeiters in north suburban Wilmette's lakefront Gillson Park drew similar howls of protest from hundreds of neighbors who stood in front of the swank Michigan Shores Club shouting, "No justice, no peace!"

"No, we didn't sanction the gang's operations, although we didn't mind undocumented immigrants coming here to be documented because we're open-minded," said a club member who, in his haste to join the protest, abandoned cherries jubilee to smolder, "We just don't want anyone with guns, much less big guns, in our community."

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Sorry, I couldn't help conjuring up those ridiculous images after some of those protesting last week's federal raid on the ring of ID counterfeiters in Chicago's mostly Hispanic Little Village neighborhood said -- predictably and irresponsibly -- that such a raid would never happen on North Michigan Avenue or in the suburbs. Which is to accuse the feds of something dark, something racist.

But would I be out of line here to point out that one reason that Michigan Avenue and Wilmette were not raided is because the counterfeiting rings aren't operating there? I'm just guessing here, but if the gangsters tried to set up shop there, they would have been turned in or, if you prefer, snitched out -- an act that has come into great disrepute among hip-hoppers and their fans.

Something tells me that the folks along Michigan Avenue and in Wilmette would not have tolerated the open sale of 100 high-quality fake driver's licenses, Social Security cards or green cards every day. I'm guessing that they wouldn't want to be in the place where "undocumented" persons from all over the Chicago area come to get documented.

This isn't something that happened surreptitiously in the dead of night. It happened in broad daylight and was well enough known to attract customers from well outside the community: not just Mexican immigrants, but from Pakistan, Poland and other countries.

If they heard about it, then people in the Little Village shopping plaza certainly knew about the high-stakes racket in their midst that allegedly was profitable enough to provoke a murder. Am I way off base here to suggest that such activities not only were tolerated but perhaps even condoned? Yes, maybe the gang terrorized the neighborhood with threats of violence for snitching, but then wouldn't the arms that the feds carried in the raid be reasonable for defense of self and the community?

As U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald tried to point out at a press conference defending the show of force and the raid itself, this story involves more than illegal immigration. It involves the easy availability of false documents, which, as we know, can give cover to terrorists. You'd think that Fitzgerald would get at least a little credit for doing exactly what should have been done before Sept. 11, 2001: helping to preserve the integrity of official documents.

By the way, fake IDs also threaten public safety and security in other ways. Here's another story, this time, not made up:

Six children, riding in a van with their parents on a Milwaukee-area interstate, died in a horrific blaze in 1994, after a heavy metal part fell from a truck, puncturing and igniting the van's gas tank.

Rev. Duane "Scott" Willis and his wife, Janet, escaped safely, only to watch helplessly as their trapped children suffered agonizing deaths in the conflagration. The truck was driven by Ricardo Guzman, who bribed employees of the Illinois secretary of state's office to get his illegal license.

Other truckers tried to warn Guzman on their CB radios that the metal part was dangling dangerously from his truck, but either Guzman didn't hear the warnings or, speaking only Spanish, didn't understand them.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Court ruling abets life, logic

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Reacting to last week's Supreme Court ruling upholding a federal law banning partial-birth abortion in most cases, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said he agreed with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As she emphasized in her dissenting opinion, Obama said, this ruling "signals an alarming willingness on the part of the conservative majority [on the court] to disregard its prior rulings respecting a woman's medical concerns and the very personal decisions between a doctor and patient."

Far be it from me to disagree with someone who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago and with my sister publication, the Los Angeles Times, which called the decision an "unconscionable U-turn" from past decisions, but they've got it wrong. Although not as wrong as the wild-eyed pro-choicers who should come down from orbit and first read the decision before they pronounce the end of womankind.

They might think the reasoning of the court's majority is overly clever, but it should be examined because its explanation needs to be understood about why it does not "disregard prior rulings."

The court argues that its latest decision -- Gonzales vs. Carhart -- not only follows the precedent of the landmark 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey case, but also said that deciding Gonzales otherwise would have "repudiated" Casey. Writing for the majority in Gonzales, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy argued that Casey reaffirmed the "essential holdings of the 1973 landmark case, Roe vs. Wade," which included the principle that the state has "legitimate interests from the pregnancy's outset in protecting the health of the woman and [emphasis added] the life of the fetus that may become a child." Yes, Roe says the interests of the woman and the fetus can be balanced.

The court observed that, in accordance with prior decisions, restrictions that place "an undue burden" on the right to have an abortion are not permitted. In other words, a law that purposely places a "substantial obstacle in a woman's path" is not allowed. But if it doesn't -- and the court concluded that this ban doesn't because women arguably have other safe alternatives -- Congress can pass laws that "express profound respect for the life of the unborn." In concluding that the ban does not create an undue burden, the majority rejected arguments that the ban is "too vague," again citing previous decisions that set tests for "vagueness."

As important, the court said that the law was a proper response by Congress to a previous high court decision, Stenberg vs. Carhart, in which it found that Nebraska's partial-birth abortion ban violated the Constitution, as applied in Casey. The language of the congressional ban is significantly different than Nebraska's ban, the court pointed out. And Congress is not required to agree with the controversial "factual findings" set out by the district court in Stenberg. Also, Kennedy wrote, Congress has a right to state its own findings: that partial-birth abortion "is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited."

Casey, Kennedy said, "reaffirmed that the government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman ... The act's ban on abortions involving partial delivery of a living fetus furthers the government's objectives. Congress determined that such abortions are similar to the killing of a newborn infant. This court [in Washington vs. Glucksberg] has confirmed the validity of drawing boundaries to prevent practices that extinguish life and are close to actions that are condemned."

There's one more point to be made about how this decision respects precedent: The heart of the pro-choice argument is that the ban fails to protect women's health and therefore is unconstitutional. But they never define "health" in the kind of detail that another high court decision does. Doe vs. Bolton, the companion case to Roe vs. Wade, makes it clear: Health is anything that a woman defines it to be, even if it is nothing more than her discomfort about her pregnancy.

If the rigid pro-choicers could acknowledge that an exception to the partial-birth abortion ban should be allowed (like the one that allows the procedure to save a woman's life) only in cases of the most serious health problems -- define it as you like and let's debate it -- then maybe we wouldn't have been in court fighting over this ban in the first place. If, as this court suggests, Congress and state legislatures are the proper places for this debate, perhaps compromise on this contentious issue is possible.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What Good Could Come From Airing the VT Killer's Video?

NBC played into this murderer's hands, and thus makes itself an accomplice to his horrific acts, by flooding the country with his images, making him a hero for every nut job in the country.

By Dennis Byrne
Editor & Publisher

So, what does it say about NBC that a sociopathic mass murder selected the network to let him get in the last word by airing his dangerous and perverted tapes.

If I were the decider at NBC, I would have said, "Not on my network, jerk." Instead, NBC played into this murderer's hands, and thus makes itself an accomplice to his horrific acts, by flooding the country with his images, making him a hero for every nut job in the country. When the shots ring out the next time, and students die in their classrooms, I hope NBC executives remember.

Read more at Editor & Publisher

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Blame Rumsfeld for the VTU massacre

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

Even before anyone knew the shooter’s name, John Nichols in the liberal Nation magazine on-line was urging us to check out Michael Moore for a better understanding of the shooting at Virginia State University.

While fairly criticizing the media for their instant analyses attempting to explain the reason for the shooting, Nichols offered up his own bizarre expert, Moore. “Do not doubt that the National Rifle Association is preparing its this-had-nothing-to-do-with-guns’ press release,” Nichols wrote. “…Many groups on all sides of issues related to guns and violence in America will be busy making their points, just as many in the media will look for one dimensional ‘explanations’….”

All true, but then in a perfect illustration of his point he suggests that we can all understand the massacre better if we took his “modest proposal: Instead of adopting a particular line, rent Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine.’ Of course, there are those who will not be able to see beyond their rage at Moore to recognize the value of this particular film.” He continues:

Read more at Political Mavens

Monday, April 16, 2007

Can you read this?

A Chicago Tribune reader, like others, again [here and below] makes a reading error in a letter to the editor in response to my calling for the reporting of the good news coming out of Iraq: I didn't say that the bad news shouldn't be reported; I said that the good news should not be buried or ignored, as it seems to be in some corners. When I was taught journalism at Marquette University 40 years ago, reporting both sides of a story was called good journalism.

News of Iraq

Columnist Dennis Byrne's recent piece on the April 9 Chicago Tribune Commentary page, about the good news coming out of Iraq, reminds me of a story about a discussion between an employer and group of employees.

The employees suggested that the employer should send along only good reports about the employees to any prospective new employer.

The employer responded:

"But what if we could prove the employee was a dangerously incompetent lout. You mean we couldn't send that along to the new employer?"

To which the employees said:

"Oh, but want about his good points?"

Thomas Amato

River Forest

Don't cut parents out of classrooms

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

"So, Johnny, what happened in school today?"

"Sorry, Dad, I can't tell you. They made us sign confidentiality agreements that forbid us from telling anyone what was said in class."

A couple of weeks ago I wrote, to the dismay and disagreement of a few, about how tough it is becoming for parents to be involved in their children's lives, what with "it-takes-a-village-to-raise-your-kids" adherents getting in the way. Now comes the ultimate:

North suburban Deerfield High School freshmen last month were required to sign a "confidentiality agreement" promising not to disclose to anyone what was said in a mandatory class involving one of the touchiest of subjects: homosexuality.

To be fair, the class was viewed in two ways:

•The school said the class was about building acceptance, tolerance and safety for bullied or marginalized students, such as gays. A panel of gay and pro-gay students explained to the students what it is like to be homosexual in an unfriendly, hostile or even threatening atmosphere and explored ways for students to become more accepting.

•North Shore Student Advocacy, the opponents, said the presentation by members of the Straight and Gay Alliance student group was an attempt to cast homosexuality in a positive light without presenting opposing views. The opponents feared that 14-year-olds who disagreed would be unfairly burdened with the label of hater or religious fanatic.

Which description is more accurate is difficult to determine, because parents have not been allowed to sit in on the class—which is understandable because there's nothing like the presence of parents to stifle discussion—and a promised videotape has not been made available. All the parents have to go on is what their children tell them, which is ironic because the children aren't supposed to be talking about it to anyone.

My first reaction was disbelief and outrage—at the unprecedented arrogance and stupidity of telling children that they can't talk about what's going on in school, even, presumably, with their parents. The know-it-alls were spinning out of control.

But a reading of the promise that the students were asked to sign indicates that it was more likely the result of a well-intentioned effort to protect children from being ridiculed and punished by their peers for what they say.

"We don't repeat what someone says in class outside of the classroom except if we have permission from the person that said it," the statement read. "We will not continue a conversation outside of class without permission from all the people that were involved during the class."

Such a promise, of course, makes it impossible to discuss what happened in class with the people who matter most: parents. The agreement may have been done without the intention of cutting out parents, which doesn't say much about how carefully this project was thought out. At best, the pledge was well intentioned but naive and ill-considered. At worst, it was really intended to hide a controversial issue from parents. To borrow from the Las Vegas marketing slogan: "What happens in school, stays in school."

Concerned Women for America a conservative advocacy group, later said the school principal told it that the pledge was a mistake. But I think there's a bigger mistake than the pledge itself: The project is an unrealistic attempt to create a non-judgmental environment about a complicated and controversial political, social, ethical and moral issue. Take another look at the pledge statement: "Each person has a chance to say what he or she wants without having it debated or denied or attacked, or agreed with or supported. It gets to stand on its own, without being taken over by someone else, either by cross talk [debating, denying] or piggybacking [agreeing, supporting]."

Here is an attempt to scrub a discussion clean of debate, disagreement or—astonishingly—agreement. It assumes that "choosing sides" is a horrible way to come to a mutual understanding.

This is not the real world. Nor is it right when one side is given an official platform to make value statements, as it was in the Deerfield class. Never mind the gross unfairness of it and how it biases the discussion against people who disagree with the appointed few. Worse, it reflects a fanciful belief that we can and must avoid "hurt feelings," even at the cost of an idea that the recently deceased author Kurt Vonnegut so dearly valued: That from cantankerous disagreement we can extract the real and true.

At least that's what I think, and if that causes hurt feelings at Deerfield High School, too bad.

Monday, April 09, 2007

And now, good news from Iraq

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces there, also reported the recent capture of "more than the usual numbers" of weapons caches. One consisted of more than 120 improvised explosive devices, some of which were the "particularly lethal" anti-armor munitions being used against U.S. troops.

Perhaps you're wondering what a straight news story is doing here, in a commentary section. It's because there doesn't seem to be enough room in the media's straight news sections to report positive developments in the Iraq war. So, as a reader service, I am writing a news story involving the possible saving of at least 120 GIs' lives.

This story is based on a PBS interview of Petraeus by Jim Lehrer and reporting by Sharon Behn of The Washington Times. (Yes, I know that liberals consider the Times to be a hopelessly biased conservative rag, much as many conservatives consider The New York Times to be a hopelessly biased liberal rag.) For what I can tell, no one reported Petraeus' comments with this emphasis.

"There have been some encouraging indicators in Baghdad, in terms of a reduction in sectarian murders," he said. "There have been some families returning; there have certainly been revivals in the markets," which he called one of the main measures of progress. He particularly noted the return of "tens of thousands" of Iraqis to an enormous, vibrant, milelong market because of increased feelings of security. "... [T]here are soccer leagues out here. The national soccer team is on its practice fields. There are signs of normality in Baghdad, albeit, again, in a city that may have been hit by violence on that given day." He pointed to a "major development" in Anbar province, a place that "many were ready to write off as a lost cause."

"[A]ll of a sudden you have cities all the way from the border, Al Qaim through Haditha, Hit, Ramadi and Fallujah, where tribes have volunteered for the Iraqi security forces." He said it is a "stunning development and reflects the frustration that the Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar have had with Al Qaeda and what Al Qaeda has done to them, to their sheiks, their families, their young men and, frankly, to their businesses and livelihoods. It has really had a devastating effect. And they have said, 'No more,' and stood up and voted with themselves and with their young men."

Petraeus corrected Lehrer's misimpression that large numbers of troops had been pulled out of the countryside to protect Baghdad. Actually, coalition forces are taking on the enemy as they have migrated out of Baghdad, as expected, pursuing them to new fronts.

Asked about how he can see any "progress" in the doubling of deaths among Iraqi police, Petraeus said, "One thing it tells us is that Iraqi security forces, certainly, are on the front lines and are fighting and dying for their country. They are committed to this endeavor." Meanwhile, the Iraqi government, noting the success of recent raids on death squads, eased the Baghdad curfew to 10 p.m. The action came as some Iraqis hailed the improved security. One woman, Layla, noted that shops were beginning to reopen on the shell-pocked main street of her neighborhood, which once bustled with juice stands, coffee shops, hamburger restaurants and small kitchenware stores.

So, where's the bad news in the story? Just as so many stories don't report the good news, I'm leaving out the bad. It seems only fair when The New York Times, for example, reported Petraeus' comments deep in a story headlined: "Bush Acknowledges Americans Weary of Iraq War." And only briefly, missing the positive comments. In the news business, what's "normal" isn't usually reported because, by definition, it isn't news. Unless it is in a country that is supposedly in ever-deepening chaos. Then the rare appearance of normality, indeed, should be news. But the appearance of normality in Iraq doesn't get reported. Maybe that means that the media consider the increasing normality in Iraq the norm. Or maybe it's just bad reporting.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Let parents rule on kids' issues

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

With the development of a vaccine that protects women against cervical cancer, some people think it is a good idea to require that all pre-pubescent girls be inoculated. That, indeed, may be a good idea. But would the advocates of such mandatory inoculations be as enthusiastic if a yet-undiscovered HIV-AIDS vaccine was mandated for high-risk groups, such as gays, IV drug users and women married to bisexual men? They too are endangered by a life-threatening disease, and if a vaccine can be forced on children, then why not adults?

Not that I'm seriously proposing such a measure; it's just a thought experiment that might illustrate some of the problems of finding the appropriate balance between individual liberty and government intrusiveness. More to the point: How much power should the government have in telling parents how to raise their children? Or the reverse: How much power should the government have to prevent parents from raising their children as they see fit?

Some legislation now being debated by Illinois legislators in Springfield illustrates the last point: House Bill 317 would give every girl the right to have an abortion without telling her parents. All they'd need do is tell a "specified adult family member or a member of the clergy." It's as if to say that notifying a sympathetic aunt is the same as notifying a parent.

This issue keeps popping up because years ago the legislature passed a law affirming a parent's right and obligation to know if his child is to have an abortion. But because a politically motivated state Supreme Court refused for years to issue rules to implement the law, it never took effect. Now, after a court more acquainted with its obligation to enforce the law issued the rules, the abortion lobby is pushing this bill that would invalidate previous ones. About two-thirds of the states have a parental notification law, and polls consistently show that wide majorities of the American public favor such notification. The pro and con arguments have been well trod; I'd just add an observation: Have parents done such a bad job of raising children that the job should be turned over to the children themselves?

House Bill 1727 would require libraries to install filters on their computers to protect children from Internet porn. It was introduced in the face of vehement opposition from groups with radical individual-rights agendas, such as the American Library Association, which believes that kids should have access to "anything they want" in their libraries, according to ALA literature. This is a parent empowerment act, which would help create a safer environment for their children when they are in their libraries.

Some folks think this is a conflict between free speech and parental rights. It isn't. There's no law or court decision that requires libraries to stock porn, whether on the shelves in their youth sections or on their child-accessible computers. That is so sensible that you're right to wonder why a law is required.

House Bill 466 would further limit the number of charter schools in Illinois, denying parents and their children greater choice in how they will use their tax money to educate their children. Charter schools have proven they can develop successful teaching methods and environments, if they are free of the suffocating and costly regulations of school bureaucracies and labor unions. And there's the obvious explanation for why the unions are so anxious to pass this legislation. That they are not even slightly ashamed to be demanding such anti-child, anti-parent legislation says much about their blind self-interest.

There is a constant struggle between just how much control government should have in child-raising. Sometimes government must step in, for example, to prevent abuse, to protect children against diseases and to provide a safe environment. But there should be no argument when government gives every child the right to a virtually secret abortion and to view pornography in public places with official sanction, while forcing most children to attend schools crippled by red tape and exhausted, unmotivated, uncaring or incompetent teachers.